Behind the Stationery: E. Frances Paper

In honor of family, these three sweet ladies started the beloved E. Frances Paper. Sharing their beginnings story and how they collectively create as a team and family, Ali, Jenni, and Pippi are here to divulge their experiences with us on this installment of Behind the Stationery! –Megan

Behind the Stationery: E.Frances Paper / Oh So Beautiful Paper

E. Frances Paper! It’s still fun just writing it, this real dream come true to work every day and run a business with your sisters. Well, we are technically two sisters and a cousin, but we’ve been so close the term “sisters” has always seemed more appropriate. (We carried our little Pip for so long her parents had legit concerns about her learning to walk.) We’re sure it’s a common feeling among those who have also started their own businesses… some days you have to give a little pinch to remind yourself you’re not just playing office… it’s all real!

Behind the Stationery: E.Frances Paper / Oh So Beautiful Paper

It was never a stretch for Ali, our Creative Director, to enter the world of stationery. As far as we can remember, no piece of paper was safe from her grip. Our childhood soundtrack was one of scissors, tape and the crinkle of paper. We’ve seen entire boxes of tissues turn into parades, rolls of tape into paper fashion shows. Our parents have graciously lived through decades of homemade everything, especially cards. She grew into the world of fashion illustration, graphic design, and eventually her own design business, but we have always tried to think of the best way to exploit her talents. Eventually, it seemed cards were the perfect fit for her artwork and illustrations. A weekend in LA for Katie Hunt’s Paper Camp, and an early mentorship from Carina Murray (Queen of Crow & Canary) opened the door to the industry through which she skipped forward and never looked back.

Behind the Stationery: E.Frances Paper / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Our factory is currently located in Newport, Rhode Island. It’s hilarious to look back on our past offices: from Ali’s guest room (“Dad, seriously just walk between Holiday and Birthday, the bed is in there on the left”), to an attic, to a basement, and we’ll never forget the storage unit where the lights went out every 90 seconds. The building we’re in now is an old Bubble Gum Factory built in 1912 which we love, because it was also run by women! We are happy to carry on the girl boss tradition. The gum produced was sent to soldiers during during WWI. It’s cool to be an all-women team in the same factory space. They did gum wrappers; we do cello sleeves. It’s basically the same thing.

Behind the Stationery: E.Frances Paper / Oh So Beautiful Paper

E. Frances is named for our Grandmothers, Elizabeth and Frances, who must be looking down on us and sending us the gifts from heaven that are our employees. We currently have three full time employees and two to three part-time stuffers we call the Pit Crew. To trust your entire company to girls you actually want to be around every day is a gift. Also, it’s a special atmosphere to work with all girls! Aside from when our favorite UPS guy Joe comes in each day, it’s a free atmosphere to discuss facial hair, coconut oil for everything, and wayward toddlers. The stationery industry in general is one that builds each other up. We’ve been grateful to find how open and helpful other stationers have been, both with advice and support. It’s really a beautiful thing.

Behind the Stationery: E.Frances Paper / Oh So Beautiful Paper

It definitely takes all three of us to come up with our product ideas. We always say we each have a third of a brain and it only works when we put them all together. The artistic third is Ali, amazing combo of brilliant artist and wicked paper dork. We try to balance our designs between beautiful and sweet and happy. We want our products to always feel positive. It seems easy to veer off in new directions, so to stay true to E. Frances, every product has to pass a little test we’ve created in order for us to print it. Sometimes it’s tempting to do something we think will sell well, but if all three of us don’t want to buy it ourselves, it gets the boot.

Behind the Stationery: E.Frances Paper / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Behind the Stationery: E.Frances Paper / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Ali does all the artwork in large, hand-painted watercolors, then scans them in to add text and get print ready. Everything is offset printed and foil stamped. Years ago when we started we were told that ‘watercolor’ has an old-fashioned connotation, but we believed in Ali’s modern, washy look. Today we see a lot of gorgeous watercolors out there, which is awesome. It’s not just a cliché – believe in yourself.

Behind the Stationery: E.Frances Paper / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Along with our signature watercolor washes, we have our unique illustrated pieces. Pip and Jenni love coming up with new ideas and sending them to Ali. “Can you just draw a chicken who’s nervous, maybe a little shady, but cute and perfectly chubs?”

Behind the Stationery: E.Frances Paper / Oh So Beautiful Paper

A typical day is…Ha! Nonexistent! Our days are constantly changing and in motion. Most days are spent fulfilling orders, packaging raw goods, organizing inventory, and lately, planning for the National Stationery Show this May (Should we change hotels this year in order to be closer to Whole Foods?). Aside from the painting, Ali is busy re-designing our website, sourcing everything, trying to be clever for social media, and keeping the wheels of new design ideas spinning. Pippi, with her insane talent of being able to do 21 things at once, manages the daily office, works with the bookkeeper, and usually has her leg up doing a barre exercise all while constantly on the phone with customers and reps. Jenni is presently on maternity leave so she spends most of her time ‘doing milkins,’ as her three-year-old would say. And the whole office runs on jelly beans.

Behind the Stationery: E.Frances Paper / Oh So Beautiful Paper

There seem to be lessons and struggles on almost a daily basis. How many cards to order? How will we know which ones will sell better than others? Which of the kabillion shelves from Uline do we choose? Do we seriously need to actually count physical inventory again? What is girth? It’s a constant potpourri of unknowns and a lot of (we hope educated) guessing. But we’ve learned that guessing is an intrinsic part of it. Sometimes we’re very wrong, but you have to go for it. There has also been a lot of learning, and then then more learning on top of that! Balance sheets and budgets and bonus structures, oh my! We have made a lot of mistakes along the way but it turns out our moms were always right: You learn the most from the mistakes. There has definitely been a learning curve but we have truly enjoyed all of it. Ok… most of it. 🙂

Behind the Stationery: E.Frances Paper / Oh So Beautiful Paper

We want to grow bigger and bigger. We want to own a forklift one day and laugh at how excited we were when we bought a dolly and cheered we’ve made it! It’s a very challenging and fun dream to be living. We are grateful to be doing what we do – working hard alongside one another and our amazing crew, having our products in stores across the country and overseas, making new friends in the industry, and learning how to run a real business and say, “Whaaaattt?! We built that!”

Behind the Stationery: E.Frances Paper / Oh So Beautiful Paper

Thanks to Nole and Megan for letting us wax on about our sweet little company. We’d love to stay in touch with you through Instagram!

xo Ali, Jenni & Pippi

Photos by Maaike Bernstrom.

Interested in participating in the Behind the Stationery feature? Shoot me an email at megan [at] ohsobeautifulpaper [dot] com.

Brick + Mortar: I know the feeling.

“Actually, I had a panic attack. It happened in the middle of the Javits center. In the middle of the Stationery Show. It was terrifying. It knocked the breath out of me. It happened in an instant. Minutes before I’d been laughing, I’d been fine.” Has it happened before? “Yes, once. I was on a plane to Italy, traveling alone. I was 16.” Do you know why it happened? “Yes. No. Sort of.” For the past three weeks, these are my answers when people ask how I’m feeling. It is an awkward, embarrassing reveal. But I spend my days talking about life and work. I like the meat of the conversation, the part where someone says: me too. The part that helps you breathe. ~ Emily of Clementine


Illustration by Emily McDowell for Oh So Beautiful Paper

I’ll spare you the details, except to say that I was devastated to leave, and lucky to be able to. A wonderful web of family and friends stepped in and got me the hell out of the city. I regained my equilibrium by talking about what happened (I also saw my doctor and got some meds). But I was surprised how quickly, so many people responded: “I know the feeling. That’s happened to me too.”

I don’t like cliches. I cringe at the idea that the world was telling me to slow down. But, hey, I had a panic attack in the middle of my favorite things, so maybe it’s time to take the long way home on this. I’m writing about it publicly because hiding it means living in fear that it will return. When you share, people shrug, or hug, or send you emails and say: me too. And you learn, you’re normal. Anxiety is part of running a business. People you admire have been here too.

I became a shop owner and a mom within the same year. Five years ago, I hit the ground running and didn’t look back. Through Clementine I found camaraderie, work I’m good at, strengths I didn’t know I had. But I forgot how to breathe. This world of creative small business owners is thick with inspiration; it zings with excitement. It is also filled with people who have a hard time turning off. We stay up late. We barrel toward the next thing. We skip everything, from lunch to vacations. We leave little space for things to go wrong. But anxiety and overwhelm lap at our heels. We all feel it, no matter how happy or pulled together we seem. Sometimes we pull ourselves together to feel it a little less.

I am not an anxious person, but obviously, something is going on. As my business grows, I have non-stop requests for reply; endless customer and vendor relationships to maintain; opportunities I can’t say no to. Each month more to-dos pile on. I was overwhelmed, but I shoved the anxiety down, yelling back: how can I be overwhelmed by a life that I love? But I am. I am anxious about how often I have to reject artists whose efforts I admire, by how many emails go unanswered. I am anxious about disappointing my husband, about money. I am fearful that I’m not making the best choices for my family, about the future.

I was juggling it all, until I wasn’t. I was happy and overwhelmed, they weren’t mutually exclusive. Together, they enveloped me, they ate up the space I had reserved for my creative life, for rest. I want that space back. To help me, I’ve called on a few favorite, kick-ass creative women, to share what they’ve learned about managing the anxiety and overwhelm of running their businesses.  I am so grateful to them for saying yes to this, for making me feel normal. I love the choir of voices. I hope you’ll share your stories too.


Lisa Congdon for her upcoming book, On Swimming: A Tribute to Life In the Water

From Lisa CongdonOne of the things I have realized is that I will never, ever get to perfection. And while that sounds terrible to most of us, it’s actually quite liberating to realize! Running a small business, especially by yourself or with a small team, can feel all-consuming (at times like you are literally drowning & cannot breathe). For a period of time right after my business took off and I got really busy, I had panic attacks every day. And when I relaxed enough to consider why I was panicking, it was always because I was afraid of disappointing someone else — a client, an art director, a customer, my agent, my wife — for not delivering perfection. That somehow if I didn’t make the perfect illustration or get the work turned in ahead of time or get home from the studio in time for dinner, I had somehow failed. I was so stressed out all the time. And so I made a conscious choice to accept (and embrace) that I will never get to perfection, ever. And that’s okay because actually no one is capable of perfection (even those people you see online who look like they have the perfect lives or businesses). I have worked super hard to get comfortable with things being messy or unfinished. I also stopped comparing myself to other people who I admired. I have worked really hard to embrace my own relaxed work pace and to focus on my own unique path. As a result, my anxiety has decreased exponentially, and I still mostly get my work done! If I don’t, there’s always tomorrow. [Lisa is a vibrant thoughtful artist and illustrator, she also writes beautifully about confronting anxiety on her blog]


Emily McDowell’s Awkward Sympathy card

From Emily McDowellI think a huge part of owning a small business is just figuring out how to not freak out all the time. When I get overwhelmed, I remind myself that I chose this life (thanks to Lisa Congdon for that one) and I get to choose how to respond to stress, nobody is going to die if things don’t go right, and the present moment is my only reality. Worrying about things that haven’t happened yet is a waste of time and energy, and if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that none of us really have a clue what the future holds. I also try to pick my battles as carefully as possible; I know I don’t have enough energy or time to deal with everything I could technically deal with, so I decide what’s most important to me and I try hard to let the rest go. And, of course, I would also be totally screwed without my small network of close entrepreneur friends. But when all else fails, Xanax is the answer. [Emily has brilliantly mastered truth-telling in her cards, but I’m a big fan of how she talks about it, and this Anne Lamott post she shared]

From Carrie Holmes: I dealt with anxiety long before owning my own business, specifically about work and job security. For years, at any job I had, I would walk through the doors fearing that today would be the day I was fired. Not for any rational reason, but because I always feared that I was an imposter – not genuinely intelligent, creative, or “good” enough. It’s a big part of the reason I decided to start my own business. Fear of failing on my own terms seemed like a better option than being fired. Of course, most of those anxieties came with me, and I developed a few new fears along the way, especially the fear of not achieving perfection with every order, every interaction. Eventually I began to accept that things WILL go wrong. Sometimes it’s out of your control, but sometimes it’s something that was very much within your control that you managed to screw up royally. But the world doesn’t end. And if you have an honest, humble discussion with whoever is on the receiving end of the screw-up, you get a chance to correct it 99% of the time. People are compassionate when you give them a chance to express it, and it helps me immensely to keep that in mind when I feel the fear rising. [Carrie just began a beautiful new textile business, though many of you know from her past-paper life running the popular Two Trick Pony.]

From Carina Murray: I actually swing more towards introversion than extroversion, which often surprises people, as I’ve been able to cultivate a professional persona that (typically) doesn’t reflect my natural resting mode. Over the years, I’ve become pretty dang good at putting myself out there and being warm, friendly and supportive to colleagues and acquaintances within this brilliant industry; that’s not to say that it is an act, but it’s not always as effortless as it may appear. A beloved high school teacher taught me the motto, “Fake it ’til you make it” and I took it upon myself to make this my own mantra in the first few years of my business. And you know what? For me, it really worked! Projecting the type of person that I wanted to become, both personally and professionally, slowly transformed me. I still need some serious recharge time after being booked with a week full of appointments, exhibiting or attending trade shows or participating in conferences, but I’ve learned and accepted that about myself and over time I have become a bit more skilled in striking a better balance. And balance is such a challenge for most of us business owners, isn’t it? I remind you all to be gentle with yourselves and to not succumb to the guilt that so often accompanies taking a much needed breath and a break, which ultimately makes us stronger individuals and business owners. [Carina has gathered some of my favorite stationery businesses under her representation with Crow + Canary and I know she often serves as confidante in addition to cheerleader for the artists behind her brands.]


Carina’s spot on card choice from Laura Berger.

I am still navigating my anxiety, learning how to say no, to slow down. I’m still sad I missed so many of you at the show. What I know is how much I’ve gained by talking, how relieved I am each time someone says;  “I know, I’ve been there too.” So I’m starting with this: I’ve been there too, it’s humbling and incredibly scary. But it’s also normal, it’s part of our work. Let’s talk about it, let’s listen to it. Let’s see our doctors when it gets too hard. And when we’re strong, let’s write letters, smile genuinely, offer to be the call in the middle of the night when the undertow is to heavy for someone else. Like monsters in the closet, a little light can go a long way. Let’s make some space so that creativity can win. We have better things to do.

xoxo for real, Emily

Hello Brick & Mortar: Great Relationships Part I

Last time, we talked about how to approach little brick & mortar shops. Now we get to talk about maintaining that relationship. Spoiler alert: Starting now, I love to take your calls! – Emily of Clementine


Illustration by Emily McDowell for Oh So Beautiful Paper

1. 3-2-1 Contact! 

So, we’ve clicked. I liked your goods. You sent your first order. Now what? Well, let’s take a cue from the great 80s theme song on 3-2-1-Contact: Contact is the secret; is the moment when everything happens! Contact is the answer; is the reason that everything happens! 

Why am I giving you an earworm for the rest of the day? Because it’s a great mantra for maintaining retail relationships and I think a few of you need that. How do I know? Because, the comments and emails I got after my first post made it clear that: 1. You all are super lovely and amazing. 2. You are afraid you’re bothering me.


One of my many beloved refurbished typewriters at Clementine

2. Are you bothering me?

Probably not. Remember: Your goal is to get me to re-order. I am pretty darn busy over here and I have a lot of stationery, so if your cards sell out, I may not notice for a bit. When you’re in contact, I order more frequently and I feel cared for, which makes me order more frequently.

Are you bothering other shop owners? I’m speaking for myself in this column, but I imagine my preferences are similar to other small brick & mortars. The best way to find out, of course, is to become psychic ask. How? Here’s one way:

We’re at the National Stationery Show or a Craft Fair, you’ve just finished writing up my order, you turn to me and say: “I’m so thrilled to be in your shop and wondered what your preferences are for re-orders and contact.”  You only need the basics: 1. Do I have a buying schedule? 2. Do I prefer emails/calls? Bonus points: is there anything that my current vendors do that I particularly like?

We’re both busy, we’ll both forget to return emails, but this little exchange tells me that maintaining a good relationship matters, and that gesture will go a long way.

3. What if you forgot to ask these things when we first met?

Of course you forgot, those lights at NSS are really bright and you didn’t sleep for the week prior. You can ask these things at any time, and this kind of attentiveness goes a long way whenever you ask.

When else should you be in touch? Great question. Have you seen this chart? The moral of that chart is: don’t wear tights and pretend they’re pants. The moral of this post is: wondering if you’re bothering me is not going to make me re-order. With that in mind, here is my basic list of when and how to contact small retailers:

Send a group email whenever:

  • Your line has new catalog additions.
  • You have seasonal deadlines.
  • You have free freight or other sales and promotions.
  • Your line gets great press.
  • Remember: always include a link to your online shop and all social media handles.

Note: I suggest investing time in mailchimp or another email system. Create a stockist or “potential stockist” category and email all of us in one swoop. (Just beware of the new gmail system that throws these emails into the ‘promotions’ tab. That may be why you’re not hearing back from us.)

Send a personal email whenever:

  • It’s been 2-3 months since my last order (this is a quick “Just checking in to see if you need anything…” email).
  • I said I was going to send an order but you haven’t heard from me.
  • You’re having a problem that delays my order.*
  • My net 30 has passed. In small shops, we often literally do it all. Don’t be afraid to send an emails that reminds me that I forgot to pay you. It will also remind me that I may need to re-order
  • You want to brainstorm. People love being asked their opinion. Retailers are people! I love what you do and really enjoy talking about new ideas/colors/products, even if I don’t carry your line.  I am emailing presently with the lovely Brannon about an unsolicited idea that I gave her which she is generously entertaining.
  • Bonus points: at New Year, send me stats on what I ordered last year and offer an incentive to make a large January order that mirrors last year’s favorites. (I have money in January, so come and get it!)

Note: I want to stress the importance of the third point.* Tell me when you are having problems that create unusual delays. It’s natural to go silent and hope problems resolve themselves. Resist that temptation. Send a quick note letting me know what the problem is. If the problem is personal, I totally get that and you can be vague, but I need the end game: is my product coming and when? Most of the time I’m not in a rush, but if I am, I need to make other arrangements. If it’s more than a little blip, consider a small gesture: cover the shipping or include extra product. A little offer goes a long way. I have had very few bad interactions with vendors (and none with stationery folks), but I am currently embroiled in one that stems from pretty significant mis/non-communication on their part. I’m floored by how unprofessional their communication strategy is, and the worst part is that a few personal emails along the way would have gone a long way toward preserving the relationship.

Give me a call if: 

  • I said I wanted to fill out an order over the phone.
  • You want to chat/brainstorm (and you emailed first to see if I’m free).
  • You have a quick question/need clarification on my order/need my credit card number, etc. and I’m not responding via email.

Note: I still wouldn’t suggest “just calling” to check in about re-ordering. Retail shops get so many cold-calls, we’re on high alert to be annoyed when the phone rings. But if we are emailing and you say “can I call you?” I will say: YES!

OSBPSHCOkillingitpackaging OSBPIronCurtain

Ever so fun to unwrap: Orders in from Iron Curtain Press and Scout’s Honor Co

Follow us on social media if:

  • It adds to your day and doesn’t become a burden. A well timed comment or an ongoing conversation on instagrampinterestfacebook or twitter builds our relationship and creates easy, more frequent contact. We all have our favorites. I’m kind of a terrible twitterer. I love instagram. I love seeing what you’re working on via social media and responding right there.
  • It makes you happy. Social media can reinforce the worst high school feelings: Followers, inside conversations, the feeling that you have to be there showing something amazing. These are tiny worlds. Use them for good and enjoy them. Do the ones you enjoy, don’t feel compelled to do any, but know that it’s a great way to be in touch which makes your other contact (email, calls, in person hellos) even more welcome.

Send a personal note:

  • With every order. (I mean, only if you know someone who makes nice cards.)
  • Just because! Carina sent me a just because letter after my thanksgiving post. We have never met and it basically made me cry. In a good way. Isn’t that what we all want? 
  • Bonus points: Make your look orders lovely. Use Angela’s ribbon. It’s just the best.
  • Bonus points: Include 1-4 cards that I’ve never ordered before. 
  • On my birthday. Kidding, that’s totally not necessary (it’s February 23).


Letter & Lark and Shanna Murray orders are always an utter treat to unwrap

Personalizing is where we, as small business owners, have so much power over the big-box operations. And personalizing, ultimately is about making contact. When in doubt, be in touch when it feels right, these ideas are ideas, not guidelines. There’s very little wrong you can do. I love my stationery vendors especially, because you wrap my orders like gifts, with a sweet note and goodies. This is the way I want Clementine to run, with small touches that make an indelible mark. Surrounding myself with vendors like you, who share this view makes it palatable to send in my law school loan check each month. I love what I do now (and I’m really glad I’m not practicing law). Everything I did before brought me to this point and I’m so thrilled to be sharing in this world with you. In other words; you’re not bothering me. So, you know, let’s make contact!

OSBPclementinewall OSBPclementineordersoutgoing

My ever changing collection of your notes at Clementine, an outgoing package from Clementine

All photos: Emily Blistein via Instagram

{happy weekend!}

In all the hubbub of Alt last week, I kind of forgot about an important personal milestone – the anniversary of my husband’s deployment to Iraq.  He’s now been home as long as he was deployed, but I still wake up every day feeling grateful that he’s here.  Everything felt so chaotic and overwhelming this time last year; a feeling that continued up until the day he came home.  So if you know of anyone with a spouse or family member deployed overseas, give them a few extra hugs – I’m sure they would appreciate it.  I’m looking forward to enjoying a weekend here in DC before heading up to NYC on Sunday for the New York International Gift Fair and to help judge the 2012 Louie Awards.  But in the meantime…

…a few links for your weekend!

This week on Oh So Beautiful Paper:

A big welcome to the newest Designer Rolodex members!

As usual, we have a fun cocktail coming up for you this afternoon, so check back a bit later for the recipe!  I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday with some favorite finds from the Gift Fair! xoxo

Photo Credit: Madelene Lindqvist

{happy holidays!}

Okay folks!  I’m heading out to prepare for our loooong drive to upstate New York.  Next week I’ll be revisiting some of my favorite wedding invitations, save the dates, and other content from 2011 (leave a comment below if you want to nominate any favorites!) before returning with new content in 2012.  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday!  But in the meantime…

…a few links for your weekend:

This week on Oh So Beautiful Paper:

Photo Credit: Brunch at Saks